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"Beauty & Belief" Exhibition of Functional Islamic Art Premiers at BYU Museum of Art

Published: 13/03/2012 11:14:26 AM GMT
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19 February 2012 Starting Friday and continuing through 29 September 2012, Beauty and Belief will be hosted in the Brighham Y (more)

19 February 2012

Starting Friday and continuing through 29 September 2012, "Beauty and Belief" will be hosted in the Brighham Young Museum of Art's main galleries, inviting local art patrons to experience a close encounter with the artistic culture of a faith that dominates much of the world religious landscape.

The exhibition of more than 250 Islamic art objects will subsequently travel to major museums in other American cities, including Portland, Oregon; Indianapolis, Indiana; and Newark, New Jersey.

The items have been brought together from museums and collections in the United States, Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

"Beauty and Belief: Crossing Bridges With the Arts of Islamic Culture" was created and directed by Tunisian-born author and art expert Sabiha Al Khemir, who says she thinks that the Museum of Art is the right place to launch She just doesn't know quite why.

Al Khemir said that, after the fact, she's become aware of some of the reasons that venue is a meaningful setting for "Beauty and Belief." Starting out in a setting where a non-Islamic faith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (which owns the mueum and university), is predominant, she said, "actually strengthens the message of the exhibition." The idea, that is, that art can bridge the gap between different cultures.

Museum of Art director Mark Magleby said that there is actually a strong scholarly interest in Islam at Brighham Young — the university has an ongoing project to translate and interpret historic Islamic manuscripts — and that made Al Khemir feel welcomed as well. "Here is a religious community that is actually inviting and accepting a different way of seeing the world," she said, "presenting the art of a different culture. "How powerful is that?"

One interesting element of "Beauty and Belief" is that the pieces in the exhibition are all items whose first function is not necessarily to express an artistic ideal, or provide beauty for its own sake. They are objects made to be used in daily living that are artistic because of their craftsmanship.

"It's kind of a fairly recent notion of art being separate from life," Magleby said. "Even in the European tradition, some of the greatest works of art during a particular period could be functional and utilitarian."

Al Khemir said that most Islamic art pieces are also functional. "Most of these objects that we call Islamic art were part of everyday life," she said, "part of people's surroundings on a daily basis, whether that was in a palace or in a humble home."

Whether the objects have an obvious function, or something that's been lost in the passage of time, however, they still have the power to communicate. "We need to forget a little bit about their immediate function," Al Khemir said, "and look at a much higher function."

A bowl inscribed with calligraphy to record bits of wisdom, she said, might have been made hundreds of years ago to hold food. Yet even if it no longer serves its original purpose, it still has value. "The bowl might have had the function of holding food," Al Khemir said, "but it also had food for the soul, and that food for the soul is still relevant."

Kathryn Haigh, a deputy director at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the next stop for "Beauty and Belief" , said that she hopes that even if the exhibition reaches only a few people, those people will spread its influence. "It's the beginning of a dialogue," she said, "of an education process."

Bruce Guenther, a curator at the Portland Art Museum, where "Beauty and Belief" will eventually conclude its U.S. tour in 2013, said that great Islamic art, like all great art, transcends its origins, whether religious or otherwise. An exhibit like "Beauty and Belief" can connect with even a "curious, questioning or obdurate viewer," Guenther said. "There is a spark inside the work that speaks to human nature."


"Artistic culture: BYU issues invitation to see Islamic art up close at 'Beauty and Belief' " Utah Daily Herald February 18, 2012

Donald W. Myers, "Muslim art coming to a Mormon college" Salt Lake Tribune

Reproduced with permission from Islam Today